Spreadsheets alone can’t win games

07/10/2015 | By | Reply More

When John Henry took over Liverpool football club I was intrigued to see how things would pan out.

I had known for a number of years that Liverpool had net underspent in comparison to their peer group in the Premier league. This meant that they were likely to start slipping down the league as their competitors had much more fire-power when it came to the transfer market. I often detail this knowledge at the start of each season and you can see it again at the start of the season on this blog post.

In this article on 30 October 2010, nearly 5 years ago, you can see that all the debate was raging about how Liverpool would make up this gap by using a “Moneyball” approach. As we can see now, this is not been borne out by reality. You can also see that this is not been borne out by reality and this seems to also be the case at Brentford FC this season.

Its interesting to see how the press have grabbed on it in this article, but for a much more balanced and readable view have a read of this site.

My view

When I first started studying football and statistics, long before it became popular. I could see the practical application of statistics and how they could be used to improve certain aspects of the game.

One problem that you face is if people become clearly aware of what you’re attempting to do, then that can cause a problem. It’s like being at a pop concert and the guy in front of you stands on its tiptoes to get a better view of the stage. In order to get a better view of the stage, you also sound tiptoes. So the guy behind you has to do the same, and so the game continues!

So it always felt that statistics were slightly one-dimensional. Yes they could help, but they would necessarily totally separate you from your competitors.

First hand experience

I’ve had the privilege over the last four years of seeing statistics, a bit of money and a lot of excellent man management come together to produce a ‘miracle’. What this has taught me, as though it wasn’t obvious, is that a spreadsheet is a spreadsheet. Using the data generated by it, is incredibly useful, but only when put in the right hands and when used correctly and when backed up by the right team, in the foreground and in the background. I’d love to tell you more about this, for the moment it’s staying off the radar.

However, it’s given me a strong view. Football is a team game, it shouldn’t be the case that one person is more important than another. It should all be about how they all work together. For that you need an excellent manager. If you fire up the laptop and show that to the team it’s not particularly motivating, so the manager is a fulcrum in the whole experience. Managers tend to come into their own when the chips are down, that’s when they earn their money.


When I was young I was given the bum job of trying to steer a football team at school to achieve something. We were not great footballers, we did not have a very good track record, but for that moment in time we all had the desire and passion to make it work. As the team captain my sole role was to make sure we all pointed in the right direction and for the right reasons. We had a great season, but it had nothing to do with the spreadsheet and everything to do with our motivation and desire.

If you can find a manager is able to instil that within a team and half the job is done already and that is what teams like Liverpool require. Yes of course you need decent players and therefore money to compete at the highest level. But with desire, passion and a good leader you will always be able to turn average players into a great team!

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Category: Football trading strategies

About the Author ()

I left a good job in the consumer technology industry to go a trade on Betfair for a living way back in June 2000. I've been here ever since pushing very boundaries of what's possible on betting exchanges and loved every minute of it.

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